Councilmembers, candidates join in opposition to AU campus plan
Monday night, Patrick Mara, one of nine candidates in Tuesday’s at-large race for the D.C. Council, demonstrated his support for the residents fighting the expansion plans of American University. He showed up at the start of the meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3D in far Palisades, looking as fresh at 7 pm in a suit and tie as he did 12 hours earlier greeting commuters at the Tenleytown Metro stop at Albemarle and Wisconsin. And his position was clear: “Patrick stands with the community and opposes the AU campus plan,” read his handout.
Mara’s position against the AU plan is also that of D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown. The Chairman recently notified the Zoning Commission, (the body that will rule on the AU plan) that he strongly supports the residents of Westover Place, NW, in their opposition to AU’s proposal to build a 770-student dorm along Nebraska Avenue. “The Westover Place concerns are my concerns,” Chairman Brown wrote in his April 7th letter, specifically referring to the proposed building being only 40 feet from the Westover Place homes and to the lack of consideration by AU of the residents’ objections. He urged the Commission “to not consider the American University Campus Plan until the residents have been given a substantive opportunity to be heard and for their comments to be seriously considered” by the University.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh has also taken up the cause of the AU neighbors. She has supported their professionally developed plan that shows how AU could accommodate up to 1,751 beds on the main campus instead of building to the east on the Nebraska Avenue parking lot next to existing residences. Cheh also met with AU President Neil Kerwin in March and in a public report said she was “disappointed that AU was unwilling to offer any but the most modest concessions.”
Both Cheh and her Ward 2 colleague, Councilmember Jack Evans, have registered similar objections to Georgetown University’s 10-year development plans now the subject of public hearings at the Zoning Commission. In March, Cheh told the Foxhall Community Citizens Association that she supports their position opposing the GU plan and would testify to that effect before the Zoning Commission. And in January, Evans circulated a letter in which he “strongly urged Georgetown University to rethink their campus plan filing and produce a plan that houses 100% of undergraduate students on campus.”
While most of the comments at the Monday ANC meeting at Sibley were against the AU plan, there were pro-AU attendees. Spring Valley resident Susan Elliott pointed out that many of the same people opposed to the AU plan had predicted the recent Sibley Hospital expansion would be “be the end of the world” and had been wrong. AU, she added, has produced a “careful plan [and] they take great pride in what they do [and] it’s going to work out.” Tim McBride, the incoming AU student government president, pointed to the “student housing crisis [leading students to live] three-per-room or more off-campus.” The new East Campus housing “will allow them to come back on-campus,” particularly helping low-income students.
Last night, the ANC passed a series of resolutions that included a call for a cap on students, faculty and staff, improved pedestrian and vehicle traffic and safety, buffers between student housing and residential neighborhoods, controls on the size and locations of buildings and review of AU’s real estate acquisitions.